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Devotion shines through in Mexican dishes

Restaurant owner developed booming business from trailer
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Maria Moreno never thought she would be where she is now when she immigrated to the United States from Mexico in 1969, but her children have been her inspiration throughout the journey. Moreno, 57, is the owner of Maria’s Mexican Tacos on Bowman Road. She started the business in 2000 after buying a trailer in Sacramento. She used the trailer to sell her now-famous tacos on the side of Luther and Bowman roads for six months before moving to her current location. “My business was doing better and better and … people kept telling me I needed a kitchen,” Moreno said. Moreno grew up in Michoacan, Mexico with her parents, six brothers and a sister. Moreno said life definitely wasn’t easy, and she used to tell her mother she wanted to move to the United States so she could have a car. “I think everybody comes to the United States for a better life, and that is why I left my town so young,” she said. “People (were) poor, and it (was) too hard for our parents to buy clothes … to raise a big family. It was hard. I think all the time (I) had the ambition to come to the United States.” When Moreno arrived in Oxnard from Michoacan, Mexico as a 16-year-old, she was poor and didn’t have a high school degree. It was in Oxnard that she met her husband, Ramon. Ramon Moreno was also from Michoacan. The couple came to Auburn, where Ramon was working for Machado Orchards. They got married in 1970, and Ramon started to work for Auburn Disposal. They had three children, Ramon Jr., 37, Clara, 36, and Pancho, 34. When Ramon was 33 he died suddenly while working. The cause of death was unknown, Moreno said. “When I lost my husband it was very hard, because we were a beautiful couple,” Moreno said. “We were poor, but we were happy.” For 27 years Maria Moreno worked at Machado Orchards and began taking English lessons when she started interacting with customers. “I was working for them and they opened the bakery in 1984,” Moreno said. “That is when I started to work … with people. That is (when) I started to learn.” Moreno used CDs and took classes in Roseville to learn English. “I don’t know perfect English, but at least I am able to talk with people,” Moreno said. “I just went to school and learned what I learned. You learn with your kids when they go to school, and sometimes your kids correct you.” Moreno said her ultimate goal when working at the orchard and opening her business was not to make a lot of money but to provide as much as she could for her children. “I don’t think I care about money,” she said. “I care about people, I care about my kids. Until I die I want to be like this.” Seeing the Machados work inspired her toward starting her business, Moreno said. “When you work with somebody in business you want to do what they do,” she said. “When I was working in the pie shop, they let me make burritos there.” Manager Shawnie Machado said Maria’s legacy continues at the Orchard. “We wish we had her back, she’s that great,” Machado said. “People still ask for her now. Maria is liked by everyone. She sends people up here. We send people down there. There is no better person than her in my book.” Ramon Moreno Jr. said times were tough growing up, but his mom always managed to put money aside to give him and his siblings special treats. “She told us it would be OK,” he said. “We didn’t have the best things. We went shopping at second-hand stores. She did what she could. She was devoted to us. She still saved enough to take us to Disneyland, take us on vacations.” Clara Moreno said her mother worked extra hard to save money for a special event. “I had a quinceañera, and my mom saved for that party for me to have,” Clara Moreno said. “Even through rough times when things happened to her, she always found a way to get it done.” Maria Moreno not only has her children to be devoted to now, but four grandchildren, Sicilia, 14, Mia, 5, Diego, 6, and Aidan, 3. Maria Moreno said Sicilia helps her with the restaurant and pushes her to keep going when she feels overwhelmed. “That is my big reason to be here: my kids and now my grandkids,” Maria Moreno said. Local customers are glad Maria Moreno struck out on her own. Auburn resident Ed McCarthy, who said he goes to the restaurant once a week, said the laid back atmosphere and Maria Moreno’s caring nature make for a great dining experience. “It’s relaxing,” McCarthy said. “We just sit back and talk, and it’s a nice place to hang out. She always comes out and just chats with us for a few minutes.” McCarthy said at other Mexican restaurants he usually gets a platter, because he isn’t sure what to order, but that is not the case at Maria’s. “It’s good Mexican food,” he said. “I come here and I get particular things, because I like them.” The restaurant can be overwhelming sometimes, but her customers make it worthwhile, Maria Moreno said. “I love to deal with people, because I love my customers,” she said. Now Maria Moreno is involved in community events and caters for weddings and parties. When she took some time off to visit Mexico, she said her customers expressed concerns that her business was closing, and this showed her how much the community cares for her. “Everybody was worried,” she said. “You know why? Because they care about (me). That’s beautiful.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com ---------------------------------------------------- Maria’s Mexican Tacos Where: 13483 Bowman Road, Auburn Hours: 10 a.m.- 9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday, closed Monday Call: (530) 823-8540 Website: mariasmexicantacos.com